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Python Multiprocessing vs Multithreading

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Multiprocessing vs Multithreading

Difference between concurrency and parallelism

Concurrency is about DEALING with a lot of things at same time (gives the illusion of simultaneity) or handling concurrent events essentially hiding latency. On the contrary, parallelism is about DOING a lot of things at the same time.

  • In Python Multiprocessing is parallelism. Multithreading is concurrency

    • Multiprocessing is for increasing speed. Multithreading is for hiding latency.
  • Asyncio (Asynchronous programming): Single thread switching between tasks

    • attachments/Pasted image 20221111201249.jpg
  • Multithreading (Concurrent programming): Multiple threads but only one can run at a time due to GIL.
    • attachments/Pasted image 20221111201311.jpg
  • Multiprocessing (Parallel programming): Multiple processes running at the same time.
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    • In this example each thread belongs to a different process.
Because of python's GIL, multithreading and asyncio are doing the same thing only difference is that asyncio uses only 1 thread whereas multithreading is using multiple threads.

What is a process?

  • A process is an instance of a program.
  • A process has its own memory for code and data.
  • A process has atleast one thread.
  • This thread has its own register and stack.
  • This thread has access to data of the process.
  • A process can spawn another thread which is known as multithreading.
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    • Each thread will have its own register and stack but it will share process's memory space.
  • If another instance of the same program is launched then it creates another process.
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    • It has its own set of memory which is not shared with other processes.
    • In order to share data it must do it with queues or pipes.
    • Threads can also use pipes and queues to share data but they have some overhead.


Python is multithreaded but NOT simultaneously multithreaded i.e. threads in python are concurrent but NOT parallel.
  • This means each thread is subdivided in time but NO two threads from the SAME PROCESS can ever execute at the same time.
  • On the other hand processes can execute simultaneously. attachments/Pasted image 20221107172448.jpg
    Both threads and processes can jump around on the physical CPU cores.
  • In order for the thread to execute it must acquire the GIL (Global interpreter lock) within the process.

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    • Only one thread in a process can acquire a GIL at a time.
    • By ensuring that only a single thread can execute at one time thread safety is guaranteed in python.
    • Thread safety means there can be no deadlocks.
    • This is the reason why we do not have simultaneous multithreading in python.
  • This means intense CPU tasks cannot be parallelised using multithreading in python.

  • But I/O limited tasks are not affected.
    • I/O operations are blocking which means once the I/O request is made the thread must wait for the return value.
    • Some examples are reading from a file, send http requests, DNS queries, etc.
  • Example of an I/O bound task:

    • Here thread 0 in each process is an I/O bound task
    • attachments/Pasted image 20221107173348.jpg
    • CPython implementation will consider switching threads (releasing GIL) every 15ms or when an I/O operation is encountered. This allows other threads to execute.
  • Difference between threads and processes

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Why do we need locks even if we have GIL?
  • Threading allows process data to be accessed by multiple threads.
  • Locks ensure that if any thread is interrupted halfway through changing or accessing some data then another thread cannot read it or modify it during interruption.
  • Hence we protect the data using Lock()

Comparison between performance

  • With SMT (Simultaneous multithreading) enabled if you have a 8 core machine then you can have 16 threads.

    • So if you running a program using 4 threads then running it on 8 threads will give you a performance improvement of 2x.
    • But if you increase the threads from 8 to 16 you will only have a performance improvement of around 25%.
    • Makes sense since we only have 8 cores.
  • An activity plot of multithreading (8 threads) vs multiprocessing (8 processes) for a CPU intensive task.

    • attachments/Pasted image 20221107182207.jpg
    • If you notice you can see that at any given time we are only executing one thread.
  • Actual work done:

    • attachments/Pasted image 20221107182432.jpg
    • Adding more threads did not result in anymore work being done.
  • The GIL lock only lives inside a process hence we can use different cores simultaneously using multiprocessing.

    • In multiple processes you will have multiple locks and those can run in parallel.
Use multiprocessing for CPU bound tasks and use multithreading for I/O bound tasks in Python

Program can do other things while waiting for the I/O. Multithreading is generally used for fetching data in the background or refreshing the UI.

Incorrectly using either multiprocessing or multithreading can negatively impact the performance of the program.
  • There are a lot of setup costs associated with multiprocessing.
  • We can incur performance hit while doing multiprocessing if we have a very simple function that doesn't actually do a lot and we are sending a lot of data to the simple function.
  • The overhead in sending data to the function dwarfs any performance gains achieved by multiprocessing.
  • The functions that benefits from multiprocessing are the ones that perform a lot of operations on relatively small amount of data.
  • Use processes when tasks are CPU intensive and completely independent from each other.


  • Multi-threaded does not strictly mean single-core the OS may switch the python process between physical and virtual CPU cores!
  • Multiprocessing is the standard python way to increase processing power if needed.
  • Most numerical libraries (numpy, scipy, tensorflow) are, simultaneously multi-threaded behind the scenes
    • These modules will not benefit from multiprocessing as they use all available cores.
  • queue() is thread and process safe but it has more overhead as compared to pipes()


Last updated: 2022-11-11